Tales of the Sausage Factory

What To Expect From The National Broadband Map.

Hey everyone, remember the National Broadband Map? As part of the Broadband Stimulus in the American Recover and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), Congress let the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) use a chunk of money to fund a national broadband map that they had ordered NTIA to create in 2008 as part of the Broadband Data Improvement Act (BDIA). Congress ordered NTIA to finish the project by February 17, 2011. NTIA handed out a chunk of change to make it happen back in 2009, and no one has heard much about it since.

NTIA has now leaked that they plan to release the first iteration of the map on February 17 – the day Congress ordered them to release it. This gives NTIA serious bragging rights at the next social get together with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). “Yes, we got it done on time.” Asst. Secretary Larry Strickling, head of NTIA will say to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski over a plate of nachos. “It would have been so awkward to have to ask for a month extension. We spent all our grant money on time as well, despite having to totally invent a multibillion dollar program and a tracking system from scratch. Really, staying on time isn’t that hard. You just need to have a plan. Speaking of which, how goes the National Broadband Plan implementation? Still on track?” At which point Genachowski will smile politely and head off for another mojito.

My predictions for the National Broadband Map below:

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

See Greg Rose and I Utterly Revolutionize Federal Spectrum Management Through The Power of Our MINDS!!!!

Ummmm……OK, maybe that overstates things a tad. Still, fellow Wetmachiner Greg Rose and yr hmbl obdn’t blogger will be unveiling two new White Papers on how we can break past the stale debates on federal spectrum and figure out how to make some wireless magic happen.

The event happens Thursday, June 3, from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Washington Court Hotel, 525 New Jersey Ave, NW, Washington DC 20001. NTIA Administrator Asst Secretary of Commerce Larry Strickling will give the Keynote Address, “Averting the Spectrum Crisis.”

Here’s the event web page, which will also allow you to RSVP. Now go below the fold to see an amusing event description and hilarious video advertisement for the conference.
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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Fairpoint Tries To Scuttle Maine Broadband Stimulus Grant

Ya know, if my state got a grant for $24.5 million to build out broadband networks in underserved areas, I would jump for joy. Not only does that mean jobs in the short term, but economic development in the long term. So why did Maine State Senator Lisa Marrache (D-Waterville) and Maine State Rep. Stacey Fitts (R-Pittsfield) introduce legislation to keep the University of Maine from participating in the $30 million partnership project with Great Works Internet (also based in Maine)? is it a coincidence that Fairpoint — that champion of rural private sector broadband which has proved the power of the private sector by defaulting on debt, declaring bankruptcy, and pissing off regulators — has been busy challenging this application and has been chanting the usual slogans about how the public sector should (a) keep out of broadband, and (b) hurry up with my Universal Service Fund bailout?

Without knowing whether Marrache and Fitts are direct recipients of Fairpoint’s campaign contribution largess, or merely ideologically sympatico with the notion of keeping federal money for job creation out of Maine and telling their constituents that they’ll get broadband when Fairpoint is good and ready to give it to them, this little incident provides a valuable reminder why Congress ought to finally pass the Community Broadband Act, which would prevent states legislatures from shafting their citizens in the name of ideological purity.

More below . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

So Did Anything Actually Happen In Telecom In 2009? And What That Means for 2010.

Ah, the inevitable end of the year summation post. This year certainly started with massive change of the relevant players in Congress, at the FCC, and in the Administration generally. It also began with some massive changes for me personally. Within the first month, Congress passed an economic stimulus bill that focused on the broader broadband ecology and explicitly required we shift from praying to the Gods of the Marketplace to trying to grapple with the very difficult challenge of developing a 21st Century information infrastructure.

So then what happened? More, including the inevitable overused sports metaphor, below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Will The Broadband Stimulus Package Get Strangled In The Craddle? And Why That Would Be A Disaster For Policy.

More and more, I’m feeling like a volunteer for the “Mark Sanford in 2012 Committee” finding out what “hiking the Appalachian Trail” really means. I have been a huge supporter of this program from the beginning. Even though I have had some concerns along the way, I have tried to keep the faith.

But the more I see about how this will get implemented, and the more deeply I delve into the details, the more I worry that a potentially great program capable of fundamentally altering our broadband future for the better to something so ridiculously screwed up that we will actually lose ground on both future funding and future policy.

The thing that finally broke my willingness to believe was this eyewitness report I got from my brother and business partner, Shmuel Feld, who attended the first NOFA Workshop held Tuesday, July 7 here in DC. A representative from RUS was explaining how applicants must fully document “unserved” and “underserved” at the census block level — but without access to any carrier data because carriers regard this as proprietary. Then, assuming the application survives to the NTIA/RUS “due diligence” round, the agency will invite broadband access providers in the area to submit confidential information to demonstrate that the area designated by the Applicant is not underserved or unserved. The applicant will have no opportunity to rebut any evidence submitted against the Application. From my brother’s report, this prompted the following exchange:

From Audience: If we, the people, do not know where the (BB) structures are or what the penetration numbers are and the big companies are not sharing these numbers or can deny them in the second round (when it is convenient) under the due diligence investigation, then how will we find out all of the information necessary for the application?

(Direct quote of RUS guy): Well that’s quite a challenge, isn’t it?

The RUS guy’s next line was a suggestion like “boots on the ground and canvassing a county” I could not hear him clearly because of the (I am serious) laughter.

OK, let me explain something to anyone from RUS or NTIA reading this. Giving Applicants an impossible task is not a “challenge.” It is a recipe for failure and a sign that you — NTIA and RUS — have screwed up big time.

I explore what I think is happening, and how it might still get fixed in time to save both the broadband stimulus package and the future of BB policy for the rest of the Obama Administration, below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Why NTIA Should Tell NARUC “Thanks, But We Can Manage the Stimulus Spending Just Fine.”

OK, I get that when you are a trade association you push for your members. But this is silly.

The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) has sent a letter to the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) and the USDA Rural Utility Service (RUS) explaining how the only, possible conceivable way for them to spend the $7.2 Billion they must spend under the Broadband Stimulus package is to send all the applications to NARUC’s members to evaluate. This way, the poor little overworked NTIA and RUS won’t have to worry their pretty little heads about anything. You can read NARUC’s press release here.

The appeal to administrative convenience is a convention one. And, like most conventional wisdom on the stimulus package — utterly wrong. For a start, Congress actually realized this would take resources. So NTIA can use up to 3% of the money for Administrative costs associated with running the program. The idea that poor little NTIA, forced to focus on the DTV transition and coupon program (which happens in June) can’t possibly manage to process all these applications is rather ridiculous in light of the fact that NTIA can spend Over $150 million on administrative costs. I think you can hire a bunch of real sharp, real experienced grant evaluators for that. Bluntly, such folks will do a heck of a lot better job of evaluating grant proposals than NARUC, as I explain below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Can RUS Turn $2.5 Bn to $25 Bn? Loan Gaurantees May Work Better Than Loans or Grants.

Unsurprisingly, a lot of folks at David Isenberg’s excellent Freedom 2 Connect Conference this past week had a lot of attention focused on the stimulus. Most of the discussion has centered around NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunity Program (BTOP) Rather than around the US Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Services (RUS) Program. After all, BTOP has more money ($4.7 bn to RUS’s $2.5 bn) more potentially eligible grantees, and more terms that will need definition.

But the $2.5 Bn for rural broadband is certainly nothing to sneeze at, and because of its more specific focus (rural infrastructure build rather than broader digital inclusion) and narrower set of eligible applicants, it may have greater opportunity to do some very clever things to maximize the impact of its spending. On the one hand, $2.5 Bn is more money than we have ever seen committed by the federal government to building rural broadband access infrastructure. OTOH, it is a pitifully small amount when compared to what most folks think it will take to bring meaningful broadband to rural America. Ideally, therefore, every dollar spent should stimulate more spending in this area.

Enter Geoff Daily at App-Rising, who writes this intriguing piece on how to leverage the wackiness of the financial system to our advantage (for a change). Unlike NTIA, which gives only grants, RUS can give loans and loan guarantees as well as grants. in fact, RUS has traditionally given loans and loan guarantees rather than grants. Geoff thinks this provides a way to turn the RUS $2.5 Bn into $25 bn in actual spending on rural broadband infrastructure. Unfortunately, it runs into a Dilbert-esque paradox. This is such an efficient and effective way for the government to use the money RUS is afraid that Congresscritters and pundits eager to declare the stimulus a failure will point to RUS’ “unspent” loan guarantees as a sign of waste and a failure to “spend” the money.

Fortunately, I think RUS can set up the program in a way that minimizes this risk.

More below . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Spectrum Inventory: “Same Bed, Different Dreams.”

I find myself in complete agreement with the wireless industry on supporting The Radio Spectrum Inventory Act. This Bill, sponsored by John Kerry (D-MA), Chair of The Subcommittee on Communications of the Senate commerce Committee, and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Roger Wicker (R-MS), requires NTIA and the FCC to account for every MHz of spectrum between 300 MHz and 3.5 GHz within 180 days of the bill’s passage. You can see Kerry’s statement here, and Snowe’s statement in here.

“Same bed, different dreams” was the title of a book by David Lampton on Sino-US relations, and comes from a Chinese expression describing people whose lives are fundamentally intertwined but who do not fundamentally communicate with each other. That pretty much sums up supporters of more licensed spectrum and supporters of more unlicensed spectrum, both of whom very much back this bill. Kerry caught this duality nicely by saluting both the 700 MHz auction and the opening of the broadcast white spaces as demonstrating the value of spectrum access and the need for the inventory.

A bit more on this below . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Adelstein To Go To RUS, But When?

In a not entirely unexpected move, FCC Commissioner Jonathon Adelstein will shift over to the RUS program. One would be hard put to think of anyone better qualified to oversee spending to stimulate rural broadband deployment (granted, as regular readers know, I am huge fan of Adelstein’s and hardly impartial). Adelstein comes from a rural state (South Dakota) and has long been a champion of rural issues — particularly broadband and wireless deployment — at the FCC. Overseeing a program to spend $2.5B explicitly on rural broadband seems tailor made for Adelstein, especially if this is just the “down payment” for making sure that we make the benefits of high-speed access available to all Americans.

When Adelstein will get a chance to shift over, however, is less clear. The FCC has dropped down to the bare minimum for a functioning quorum of three commissioners. The Administration has now officially nominated Julius Genachowski for FCC chair. In theory, the Senate could hold a hearing, confirm Genachowski, and then shift Adelstein over to RUS at any time. In practice, however, some other considerations intervene. And while a few months might not normally make much difference in the grand scheme of things, the RUS, like the NTIA, is very busy at the moment setting the ground rules for the availability of the stimulus money. No one wants to show up after the rules are already settled, especially if you have some significant experience that would give you some strong ideas on how to spend the money effectively.

Some elaboration and speculation below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Big Win For Community Wireless At FCC

The FCC released its long awaited decision resolving Continental Airline’s complaint that Massport cannot order it to shut down its free wifi access for Continental customers.

While supremely important for its ultimate holding, the case contains many positive and useful determinations for unlicensed generally. It also contains two outstanding concurring statementsfrom the Democratic Commissioners. You can see Copps’ concurence here, and Adelstein’s here.

That’s also very good news. Almost a year ago, I worried that, with the departure of Michael Powell and Ed Thomas from the FCC, and the departure of Michael Gallagher from NTIA no one would champion the cause of unlicensed spectrum. But as Copps and Adelstein have shown, both in this decision and in their actions in last month’s item on the broadcast white spaces, Copps and Adelstein ‘get it’ on unlicensed spectrum and why it is so important.

Further analysis below . . .

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